Letting Go: A Cautionary Tale for Control Freaks

Pat’s post hit a chord with me. I’m in the prepare-to-prepare stage leading up to my 2015 debut. Trying to forecast promotional efforts in the months leading up to the launch. And, hoping my book is cherished as much as Sophie and Bernice. First, I’m reflecting on the surprising angst that followed my book contract. The angst of letting go.

See, I love the inventive stage of writing. Don’t get me wrong, writing is damn hard. But, I love that evolving sense of possibility when worlds and characters spin out of thin air and land as words on the page. Imagination is magic. Even in nonfiction. From the moment I began writing my debut, STEP RIGHT UP: THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL JIM KEY, I occupied the story. All writers do this. Before we can add depth and motion to our words, writers visualize until our stories unfold movie-like on the big screen of our mind. We are all eager to control the script and staging. We like telling our characters what to do, what to wear, how to stand. If we can’t visualize it, we can’t write it. In the case of nonfiction, it’s about telling the truth and filling in gaps. Sometimes, that means converting 125-year-old images from two-dimensional, dingy black and white to Technicolor. In panorama. And in 3D.

While writing, the world on the page is mine, mine, mine!

I am in control. Mwahahaha!

 Until I am not.

My editor had suggestions on STEP RIGHT UP. Lots of them. Some of her suggestions were that I undo some of her suggestions. Add, cut, expand, simplify, redirect, rinse, repeat… In a way, my story became a collaboration. But, as the word weaver, I still felt a sense of control. Sort of.

Until I wasn’t.

Enter, the illustrator.

I am in awe of artists who can press “copy” on their mental printers and, voila! They sketch, sculp, paint, and pixelate their visual imaginings for all the world to see. More magic!  So, I was surprised to be so full of angst as I awaited the illustrator reveal. Seriously, y’all. Angst! And worry. And maybe a tiny speck of panic. An illustrator will have his/her own visual interpretation. Their own image of the world Doc and Jim lived in. Their own tinted lens through which the mental movie plays for them. Aaaaack! I found myself playing the “What-if” game. What if the illustrator can’t capture Doc and Jim as I see them? What if his/her art is too silly, too serious, too dark, too light, too cartoony, too portraity, too realistic, too unrealistic?

And, besides, horses are hard to draw. Just ask the people I forced, I mean asked, to draw for me. (Some of these people may be related to me. Except for the tile guy.)

photo copy 5photo

 Arin's horse 8

photo copy 6

Donna horse 1

photo 2

Thankfully, I can be confident that an illustrator will do better. But letting go is hard. As I peruse the books on my shelf, I’m reminded that it takes many creative perspectives to create visually stunning and memorable stories. Magic multiplied. Now, I find that my illustrator angst has given way to excitement. The kind of excitement I felt, not knowing what kind of wonderfulness was wrapped under the Christmas tree. There is a childlike wonder in this anticipation.

I’m ecstatic to announce that Coretta Scott King Honor recipient, Daniel Minter will bring Doc and Jim to life through his spectacular art. Better still, Daniel and I have been communicating. He would like my input. I think I’m in heaven. Check out his work, y’all. My little book baby is in very good hands.


Filed under Anxiety, Illustrators, Thankfulness, Updates on our Books!

8 responses to “Letting Go: A Cautionary Tale for Control Freaks

  1. Preparing to prepare…it’s hard. All so new and unfamiliar when it’s your debut book!
    Yea! You have your illustrator! I went over and checked out his work! Amazing! I’m thrilled for you!


  2. I so resonate with your post, Donna. After going to NYC and meeting all the people who are becoming committed to EVIDENCE and having their own experiences with it, I realize that my baby is going out into the world and I can guide it a bit but really, it will be on its own entering a lot of people’s lives without me. And all I can say is wow.

    But that is why we write, yes?


  3. I lurve those horse pictures.
    It could be a whole new conflict mediation thing. “OK, honey, let’s just step back and each draw a horse and then look at each other’s horses.” No argument could withstand that.


  4. Adi, I “lurve” those pics, too. Don’t ask which were my own. I’d never admit to it.
    You’ve come up with a brilliant idea about using everyone’s imperfect and messy art to diffuse heated situations. How could anybody not giggle?


  5. Yes. It is hard to let go and let things become a team effort, especially after getting used to the lonely revise-and-submit stage that comes before the contract. But Daniel Minter’s illustrations are amazing, Donna – I’m so glad that you have an artistic partner you can be confident in.


  6. Thank you, Megan. I plan to enjoy the anticipation because I know the months and weeks leading up to the release will drive me insane with impatience.


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